St Anthony of the Desert

Orthodox Christian Mission

Las Cruces, New Mexico

Fr Gabriel

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Ok So the World Didn’t End. Where to Now?

Several decades ago Pennsylvania ended the Blue Laws whereby stores were closed on Sundays.  In recent years the Commonwealth also ended the “no Sunday liquor sales” rule.  I was happy to see the old laws go.  I’m not a major consumer of alcohol or any other provisions purchased on Sunday.  But living as I did in a predominantly Jewish neighborhood I thought it was an insult to my Jewish neighbors to close stores on Sunday, when their holy day was from sundown Friday through sundown Saturday.  Nowadays I would add Muslims, who were more or less invisible, if present, in the Commonwealth when I was younger.  Their holy day is Friday.  You see the problem.  Such favoritism is out of place in these United States.

The election this year bore out the changing face and consciousness of America.  We are moving toward inclusivity and away from exclusion.  I remember when Jews were admitted to Ivy League universities only by a strict quota system.  I am aware of injustices suffered by 19th Century Irish and Italian immigrants.  We have all suffered as a result of segregation and Jim Crow laws.  The old Western European Christian – and often Puritan – white man’s hegemony is over, and this election finally brought that home to us.

As a Christian I hold certain views that have social implications, for example regarding abortion.  But here’s the sticky part: not everyone in America is a Christian, and we do not have the right to force our values on others – especially since there is such broad disagreement even among Christians about many of these issues.  I do not yell at my neighbors and demonize them if they hold different views.  That’s a commitment, not a mere curb on behavior.

Does this refusal to judge make me less of a Christian?  No.  Please don’t tell me that it does.  But the recent election was so sadly divisive, so nastily managed, and so full of rancor and vituperation that many people of all religions and none, feeling shouted down, simply dropped out of the conversation and voted – either with their fingers or with their feet.

I have watched with horror as the public square – that safe arena where one could debate issues without fear of penalty or recrimination – has shrunk to the size of a postage stamp.  This ought not be in our great country that has struggled so long to become more inclusive.  Past prejudices must be laid aside as we travel farther in this 21st century.  Yes, the social and economic issues that confront us must be faced – but not in condemnation of the other.  We have to recognize the rage and violence that underlies so much of our rhetoric and work to move beyond it.  Every religious tradition addresses this spiritual problem, and we who embrace those traditions must hear their narrative of peace and compassion and unity that reaches across political divides of Republican, Democrat, Libertarian, and independent.

Is this “mixing religion and politics”?  No.  It is civil religion, a robust and venerable American tradition.  I take civil religion to mean not the establishment of religion, but rather offering the best of your ethical tradition into the marketplace of ideas and actions in concert with others.  Talk about the issues in your church, synagogue, mosque, or other religious organization.  But do it in a spirit of compassionate listening, recognizing that the viewpoint of the other must be respected.  If not, shrillness continues and we get nowhere.  There is a place for public religious discourse on social issues, but we have to recreate it after years of degeneration.  Let’s do it together.

published 16 Nov 12